Finding a Secret Vietnamese Army Hospital Cave in Laos.
Above Photo: Inside the Hospital Cave.
I recently visited a secret North Vietnamese Army field hospital, hidden in a deep cave at the base of a mountain in Tham Pha, Laos, not far from Phonsavan. Clambering down a steep and overgrown pathway to find it, we only glimpsed the cave entrance when we were right on top of it.
I’m not superstitious (much) but there was definitely a strange feeling about this cave; maybe its isolation, and the quietness that engulfed us as we reached the mouth of the cave.
Outside, the ground was strewn with rusting tins of rations, morphine ampoules, human bones, remnants of medical gowns, parts of cluster bombs and bullet heads, attesting to the attention these mountains regularly received during the Secret War in Laos when B-52s and fighter planes would attack the mountains, through which important supply trails of the NVA and the Viet Cong ran.
During the war the cave had served as a North Vietnamese infirmary, which treated soldiers injured in combat or local villagers injured in the bombing runs.
I entered the cave, surprised to find our local guide was hanging back. He said he was scared of ghosts of the people who’d died in there. With a quick roll of my eyes, I set off with a small flashlight into the dark, cramped, hot and humid cave complex, to explore it on my own.
When I’d turned a couple of corners, I switched off the flashlight. It was pitch dark and slightly oppressive. It was also very low and I had to walk bent double a lot of the time, and quickly got disoriented inside there.
I saw a rusting old hospital bed, more rations, more morphine bottles and various bits and pieces of medical apparatus, as well as human remains.
With sweat streaming down my face and body, I actually jumped when I heard a noise behind me, but it was only the guide, who’d become worried about me, and who had finally overcome his fear of ghosts to follow me in using his mobile phone as a flashlight.
He then took the lead, although I later found it was his first ever visit, and pretty soon we became lost, as he took a wrong turn on the way out. It was no big deal as there weren’t too many options, but I could feel a rising level of claustrophobia as we used trial and error to find the right exit tunnel.
Before we left, I had a moment of reflection for the people who’d died in there as a result of their combat injuries, or the non-combatant villagers who’d been rocketed and bombed by planes strafing the mountains during the Secret War in Laos.
For POWs left behind in Laos, see:
© Peter Alan Lloyd
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